Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Psychosocial Mechanisms Explaining the Association between Spirituality and Happiness in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Psychosocial Mechanisms Explaining the Association between Spirituality and Happiness in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries

Article excerpt

At the onset of a traumatic disability, such as a spinal cord injury (SCI), a person's spiritual beliefs may provide a mechanism for healing and coping with stress (Marini & Glover-Graf, 2011). The physical and psychological effects of sustaining a SCI may require individuals to reevaluate their worldview in order to successfully adjust to a newly acquired disability identity. A person's worldview is molded by spiritual influences including his or her thoughts and beliefs concerning life, death, and suffering (Littooij et al., 2016). As such, spirituality impacts how a person adapts to an acquired disability.

In the fields of health and rehabilitation, an extensive body of literature addresses the relationship between spirituality and health outcomes. However, the majority of research has focused on individuals with terminal health conditions (e.g., end stage cancer), who may use spiritual and religious coping as a way to make peace with their illness, resolve lingering issues, and prepare for death. As medical and technological advances extend longevity, improve health and function, and facilitate independent living, the influence of spirituality for a person living with a disability, such as SCI may be different. Spiritual and religious beliefs may facilitate positive adjustment by helping individuals with disabilities maintain health status, manage the daily stress of coping with a disability, find new meaning and purpose, and establish new life goals (Johnstone et al, 2007; Johnstone, Franklin, Yoon, Burris & Shigaki, 2008).

Despite empirical evidence linking spirituality and health outcomes, the relationship between spirituality and positive psychosocial adjustment to disability has not been adequately investigated. A recent scoping review of 26 studies addressing spirituality and psychosocial adjustment for persons with SCI does provide some evidence that spirituality plays a contributing role in adjustment post-SCI (Jones, Simpson, Briggs, and Dorsett, 2016). However, the mechanisms via which spirituality influences psychosocial adjustment remains unclear, resulting in a gap in knowledge. Considering depression and rates of suicide for persons with SCI are higher than people without disabilities, (Marini & Glover-Graf, 2011), it is important to further investigate psychosocial mechanisms, such as spirituality, that may improve mental health and quality of life for persons with SCI to mitigate potential negative outcomes.

Spirituality and Happiness

Spirituality has long been associated with better health, a longer life span, and greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction (Udermann, 2000). Martinez and Scott (2014) identify spirituality as a strong psychosocial predictor of happiness implying spirituality influences engagement in meaningful daily activities which then influences happiness. For persons with disabilities, one study shows spirituality is a strong predictor for happiness, controlling for inflammation, pain and stiffness, physical functioning, age, and mood in those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (Bartlett, Piedmont, Bilderback, Matsumoto, & Bathon, 2003). In another study, a spiritualty-based intervention led to increased hope, happiness, and life satisfaction in breast cancer survivors (Fallah, Golzari, Dastin, & Akbari, 2011). These studies elucidate the need to further investigate of the impact of spirituality and mental health outcomes including happiness and well-being.

Psychosocial Mechanisms

Due to an emerging conceptual framework highlighting spirituality as an important positive coping strategy for psychosocial adaptation to chronic illness and disability, the need for further research forms the basis for the current study. Specifically, we examine the underlying psychosocial mechanisms by which health status, perceived stress, social support, self-esteem, and psychological well-being influence the relationship between spirituality and happiness based on the following summative review of the literature. …

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